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White House Medical Unit gave controlled substances to ineligible staff, watchdog finds

A Pentagon watchdog found a slew of problems with the White House Medical Unit that took place during the Trump administration, including that the unit provided controlled substances to ineligible White House staff. 

A new report from the Department of Defense inspector general found the military-run White House Medical Unit provided a wide range of health care and pharmaceutical services to ineligible staff, in violation of federal law and policy, with senior leaders in the unit directing practices out of line with Pentagon guidance. The report also found White House military medical unit providers said they weren't empowered to deny requests from senior unit leaders. The investigation involved interviewing military officers who worked in the White House between 2009 and 2018. 

The report found controlled substances, including opioids and sleeping medications, were "not properly accounted for," in violation of federal regulation. The White House Medical Unit used handwritten notes to track inventory for controlled substances, which accounted for frequent errors, the report said. The report found the unit dispensed Ambien without verifying patients' identities and purchased brand-name Ambien, which costs 174 times more than the generic brand. The report said the medical unit also purchased brand-name Provigil, another sleep aid that costs far more than its generic counterpart. The White House Medical Unit also improperly disposed of both controlled and non-controlled substances, the watchdog found. 

The report said these problems happened because "White House medical officials did not consider their operations to be a pharmacy."

"Without oversight from qualified pharmacy staff, the White House medical unit's pharmaceutical management practices might have been subject to prescribing errors," the report said. "Additionally, the White House medical unit's practices demonstrated inadequate medication management and increased risk to the health and safety of patients treated within the unit."

The inspector general's investigation was prompted by complaints in 2018 alleging that a senior military medical officer assigned to the White House Medical Unit was involved in bad medical practices. 

The report did not name names. 

The Pentagon watchdog recommended that the director of the Defense Health Agency, working with the White House Medical Unit director, develop procedures to manage controlled and non-controlled substances. 

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Rep. Ronny Jackson arrives at a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 12, 2023, in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The same year, 2018, the Pentagon IG initiated an investigation into GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, who at the time was the White House physician to President Trump and had been nominated by Trump to be Veterans Affairs secretary. Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who ran the White House Medical Unit for several years, until 2014, was accused of creating a hostile work environment. In 2021, the Pentagon watchdog released a scathing report that found Jackson used Ambien during long official flights, and that witnesses had raised concerns about Jackson's potential inability to provide proper medical care. The report concluded that Jackson's overall conduct toward subordinates "disparaged, belittled, bullied, and humiliated them." 

Jackson accused the IG of issuing a report that was politically motivated because Jackson was a Trump supporter. He retired from the Navy in 2019 and ran for Congress.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article erroneously said Ronny Jackson led the White House medical unit under former President Donald Trump. He led the White House Medical Unit under former President Barack Obama until 2014, but he remained physician to the president for both Obama and Trump.  

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